By Sandra Laville | The moment the family of Jean Charles de Menezes attempted to force their way past a group of private security guards into the inquest courtroom marked the lowest point in a multi-million pound hearing into the fatal shooting of an innocent man by the Metropolitan police.
Any semblance of trust between the relatives and the establishment, in the person of the coroner and the court, dissolved into a volley of recriminations and accusations after Sir Michael Wright made a series of decisions that made the family question the openness and impartiality of proceedings.
The dramatic scenes, which can only now be reported after the lifting of a media gagging order imposed by Wright, came on December 5, one hour before jurors were sent out to begin their deliberations on a verdict.
After two IPCC investigations into the shooting of the innocent Brazilian man and a crown court trial, the hopes of the family were high that the inquest, held in the surroundings of the Oval cricket ground amid much publicity, would establish the facts of the fatal shooting and come to a verdict that accurately represented the events of the day.
What they wanted, the relatives said, was some sort of accountability. What they believe they were given was a slanted inquiry, held back by the restrictions on the verdict imposed by the coroner. They believe he forced the jury into a corner, withdrawing any freedom to return a critical narrative on the shooting or to find unlawful killing – either on the grounds that an individual or individuals had committed murder or manslaughter.
These decisions began a week of escalating tension that exploded into open hostility between the family and the court and resulted in the relatives withdrawing their legal team and their cooperation.
“It is increasingly clear in the last week that the coroner’s impartiality has simply disappeared,” said Jasmin Khan of the Justice4Jean campaign. “That is one of the reasons why the family felt they had no choice but to withdraw their cooperation.”
The relatives had hoped the jury would be told of their decision to withdraw before they retired to consider their verdicts, but the barristers for the police and the coroner agreed that only the blandest of statements about the absence of the family’s legal team could be given to the jury.
“The less said the better,” said Richard Horwell QC, representing the commissioner of the Met.
The coroner had earlier ordered the public and the media to leave the courtroom while he completed his summing up to the jury last week, giving no reason except to say he had reached a “sensitive” point in the hearing.
When the public refused amid repeated requests for clarification of his ruling, there was a standoff for an hour and 40 minutes. The public refused to leave and the coroner refused to return to court.
At one point the team of bouncers with walkie-talkie microphones on their shirt cuffs who had been hired to provide security at the inquest were seen huddling in a corner. “We can’t use violence, that’s clear,” one was overheard saying.
Eventually the coroner’s orders were upheld and the public, including supporters of the family, left the court.
The relatives were held back by security guards and kept out of the courtroom while barristers, police and the coroner filed in. Having lost all faith that those inside would honour the principle that “justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”, they attempted to storm into the courtroom.
Today, although the hearing is over and the verdict delivered, the accusations, bitterness and recriminations continue from those who believe that the inquest was never an open, impartial examination of the facts.